Guest: Aaron Jones – Using Storytelling to Engage Customers

Guest - Aaron Jones
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The Jasons Take On...
Guest: Aaron Jones - Using Storytelling to Engage Customers

Episode Description

Join us with guest Aaron Jone, VP of services and global partner strategy at HubSpot. HubSpot is a leading CRM platform that provides software and support to help businesses grow better. Our platform includes marketing, sales, service, and website management products that start free and scale to meet our customers’ needs at any stage of growth.

Today, thousands of customers around the world use our powerful and easy-to-use tools and integrations to attract, engage, and delight customers. Today we’re talking with Aaron about storytelling and how to use it to really engage with your customers and your internal teams.

Guest: Aaron Jones

Aaron Jones is a Professional Services and Customer Success executive, who has been responsible for the vision and execution of delivering optimal customer experiences at companies that include Adobe, Discovery Education, Network for Good, Sprinklr, and others. 

Leveraging data, leading indicators, and strategic outreach, he has proven success creating engagement models that drive adoption, are predictive of customer retention and growth, and increase customer satisfaction and overall NPS. Aaron serves as an Advisor for the diversity and inclusion consultancy firm, Cook Ross.


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[00:00:00] Jason Whitehead: Hi everyone. And thanks for joining us today for this next episode of the Jason’s take on podcast. I am here with my co-host Jason Noble. Say hello, Jason. Hello, Jay. Well done, and we’re very excited to say we have another great guest. We have Erin Jones who is the VP of services and global partner strategy at HubSpot.

Aaron’s got a pretty large team all around the world, reporting to him and a lot of experience. And today we’re going to be talking about storytelling and how storytelling is relevant for customer success as well as other professionals.

I’m really excited though. Aaron and I got acquainted when he attended in some of his team attended a webinar that, that success chain sponsored and hosted with our friend Chuck Goldstone, who was a master storyteller. And we caught up afterwards just to learn how storytelling applies at HubSpot and his views on it.

It was just such a fascinating conversation wanting to invite him to come speak with us today. Aaron, thank you very much for coming and welcome.

[00:00:55] Aaron Jones: Thank you very much. Pleasure to be here with you.

[00:00:58] Jason Whitehead: Fantastic before we jumped in. Can you just go ahead and introduce yourself a little bit and share a little bit about your background and career journey and how you got to where you are and how you got to what you’re doing now?

[00:01:09] Aaron Jones: Yeah, happy to so I am the vice president of global services and partner strategy at HubSpot, as you mentioned I started my career. And I was a computer science major. I started my career, very technical. I was a code writer, developer, Unix engineer JavaScript, or et cetera, like all the geeky stuff.

And it was a lot of fun and I loved it. But then I had an opportunity when I was working at the discovery channel to. Co-found they’re a data science program and we built that out and I ran that for about 10 years. Started a consultancy and then. Got into the SAS world. Sometime around 2010, I joined Adobe, right?

When they were pivoting from perpetual licenses into software, as a service, I got to work with a lot of incredibly smart and talented people to figure out what the go to market motions are in a SAS environment. And we made some mistakes. We learned a lot of great things and we came up with what we believe was a really solid operating model.

As Adobe was building out their digital marketing cloud. I love

[00:02:16] Jason Noble: the fact that you’ve mentioned Unix there, errands but I go by years, but I can remember the days of doing Unix, scripting and all that from there. So I’ve just so deep you’ve made me, you made.

[00:02:27] Aaron Jones: All right, so I’m gonna, I’m gonna stick with this tangent for a second.

[00:02:30] Jason Whitehead: I thought you started on punch cards.

[00:02:36] Aaron Jones: So I use a Macintosh, a Mac exclusively because I can go out to a shell. You’ve got the terminal, and I still use the VI editor.

[00:02:55] Jason Whitehead: That’s awesome. I love that background of going from such hardcore technical to a role now, which is much more interpersonal and interaction led. It’s just fantastic. Aaron, when we first spoke and I took notes of this, cause I thought it was really interesting what you were saying. You were telling me that.

You’re constantly telling your team that they’re storytellers. And you mentioned the quote I wrote, if you don’t have a compelling story to tell it’s hard to be successful. And I really thought that struck through and I really hit the heart of all. I think that a lot of folks don’t necessarily know what a compelling story is.

So what do you mean by storytelling and a compelling story and why is it so important?

[00:03:29] Aaron Jones: Particularly today, like there’s information all around us coming at us from all angles. And there’s just a lot of noise out there. And you’re getting alerts on your phone, your tons of email.

I don’t think anyone really uses the telephone to talk that much anymore, but anyway, there’s just so much stuff going on and there’s so much information that’s coming out and it’s hard to keep track of a lot of information because the information. It’s just that, right? What people remember that story, like everyone remembers a good story.

And if you develop that skill and become a good storyteller particularly in business, you’re going to be a lot more effective because your words are going to, they’re going to have a longer shelf life with the audience, with whom you speak. Yep.

[00:04:20] Jason Whitehead: Go ahead, Jason. Sorry. I was gonna say, I definitely agree with that when we’ve been working with clients and training folks, get some people who are so into, I’m going to build out the perfect PowerPoint deck and the perfect PowerPoint slide.

I’m like. There is no PowerPoint slide. That’s going to change the world and people will forget the instant you’re out of the room, but a good story or a good question. People will chew on that later, long after the meeting is done and being able to connect with them in that way that they’re willingly giving their attention to focus after you’re out of the room.

I think that’s huge, just absolute huge.

[00:04:51] Jason Noble: It’s a, I think an underused scale, lots of people underused. Not underrated cause people do it, but it’s people don’t know how to do it. One question for you, Aaron is when you’ve taught there about your technical background and a lot of the work you’ve done on data and how you’ve come into these new roles, how do we get?

So for our customer success managers and teams there, a lot of them still don’t know how to interpret the data. What does it really mean? What can I tell what I said? What’s the story I can tell. How do you. How do you help them understand what that means and how you can take them on a journey to make the dead data more meaningful and take, tell the story behind it and then tell it, take the relevant actions for customers.

How do you take people on that?

[00:05:34] Aaron Jones: I love that question. And it’s something that I’ve been asked a lot over the years from folks around me, from managers that work for me and the path that I take. There, there are many paths to take but what’s worked for me is first, you’ve got to understand what your customer’s goals are or what makes your customer happy, bonus points. And this is something that I, as a tip that I give everyone, if How your customer earns their bonus, right? What do they do that they get paid their bonus on. It doesn’t matter what you, what your software does. If you help your primary contact, earn their bonus, they love you. And they will retain you forever right now.

More like most likely. Whatever that thing is, it’s going to be connected to the software that you’re supporting, right? So one know your customer know what’s important to them and what metrics are important to them and what they use to to measure their own success. And that’s the starting point for your story?

Yeah. So you take the data points that you have connect them back to your customer’s goals. And literally just tell the story around it and the story doesn’t always have to be this glowing thing. A trap that I think that some people fall into is I’ve got to have a great story. And the data is in supporting a great story.

Sometimes the data just is what it is and if it’s not pointing to this bright, shiny thing, That can be okay if you frame it in a good story, right? If you have some insights into why things are flat, or maybe why things have trended down and why it’s going to get better or some actions that you can take.

You can craft that into a narrative that will resonate without getting stuck in that trap of I don’t really want to show these numbers or present this because it’s not what the customer wants to see. Just tie it back to their goals and how you can save them, or you can help them get around it, get around the obstacle if it’s an obstacle.

And if things are looking great that’s an easy story to tell because things are looking for.

[00:07:41] Jason Whitehead: Absolutely. And I think there’s something around that too, of especially if you have a bad data that appears bad on the surface and things like that, how do you find some of the best ways to get your audience?

Whether it’s an internal executive or customers, some like that to it’s like, all right, should I be worried or should I lose faith and cut and run now versus notes. It’s time to stick with this. Any tips on how you can get people to stick with something through the hard times? Because I think that’s something that people encounter a lot.

[00:08:04] Aaron Jones: Yeah, and there, there are a lot of variables that could factor in. And if you have. Context or insights into why that is. The lesson could be like, Hey, we know this is why things aren’t looking great. So let’s not do that. It ever again. We’ve learned never to do that. So it’s not like it was a failure.

We just learned that’s not what works. So let’s pivot and go in another direction. So th that’s one approach. If you don’t have that context and it’s things are just not trending well. And that happens at times having or coming up with a strategy or an action plan as best you can as to what will turn it around.

But the important thing is just not to ignore it. You’ve got to hit it head on. You’ve got to have that conversation. And always remind your customers that you’re in it together, right? Like it’s when customers feel like it’s more of a partnership than a, like a vendor, client relationship, you get a lot more success.

You get a ton of success. Like a couple of other little things that I do. When motivating my team to like really establish that type of real trusted relationship back in the days before the pandemic, when you could actually go onsite and see customers, I don’t know if anyone remembers that, but that was a thing once before.

I would always spiff my teams if they could get a batch from the client so that they can actually dispatch themselves in and walk in. That’s when, you’ve got a great relationship is when a customer is Hey, you know what? I don’t need to come in and come down to sign you in anymore.

We’ll just get you like a permanent visitors, badge or a contract is bad. So you can just walk yourself in.

[00:09:49] Jason Noble: Yeah. When your teams is telling stories and the standard, how do you get them to make sure they’re telling the right story? What is a good story to tell and how do they go about understanding what data they need to be able to tell that story?

[00:10:03] Aaron Jones: A great question. The, a good story is the one that resonates with the customer. It doesn’t matter if I think it’s a great story. If it falls flat with the customer, it’s not a great story. There’s something that, that about it. That just wasn’t quite right, because it didn’t land with the customer.

So a great story is one that’s going to be. Insightful. So that’s a key ingredient in create a key ingredient. It’s gotta be insightful. It’s it should be memorable so that the customer is walking away with something. And at the end of the story, the customer knows what they just heard.

It’s it. I’m sure we’ve all been countless times where we’ve heard a story told and at the end of it, it’s I actually don’t know what to say. I don’t know what I’m supposed to walk away with. And like I heard a lot of words and they had meaning I’m just not quite sure what I was supposed to distill from that entire thing.

So being concise with clear takeaways that are easy to remember and better still, it’s easy for them to repeat.

[00:11:09] Jason Whitehead: I when I’m facilitating groups or training classes or whatnot I just put my notes in advanced and I actually put in their bullets up say this story here, say that story here.

Cause I’ve learned over time, which ones work and which ones don’t. But many of those are stories. Specific to me, in my experience though, I did get to a point where some people on my team, they were delivering a couple of sessions and they repeated those stories and they just made it our customer.

My, my work and it was very, it was nice to see they saw the value there. And I think that was just something that was very helpful. Literally writing down a bullet point, prompt up. This is where this story fits

[00:11:42] Jason Noble: in the way you finish. That last point there, I think is really good. We do listen to people talking, speaking, telling stories, and sometimes you come away and you’ve not sure what the message is, what they meant, but how do you that there’s a difference between speaking, presenting and storytelling, do you find that the people kind of gravitate to one or the other, some good speakers, not good storytellers and vice versa.

[00:12:07] Aaron Jones: Yeah, I actually, I really appreciate that. You called out that distinction. There’s a big difference in presenting and telling stories. I work with some incredible presenters that We’re less incredible. I tell a story. They were good. They were so good at telling stories, but just not as good as they were at presenting.

And I really think that it’s a matter of focus. I think if you’ve got a good presenter, they have all the tools to become a great storyteller. They just haven’t really made that connection that. I could present something or I could tell a story. And again, telling a story is a, an end to end process.

Whereas presenting is more of a methodical procedure, and really that,

[00:12:56] Jason Noble: sorry, I am for me, this is this is so enlightening really? Cause it is, I’m not presenting. I’m telling us. But that’s got to be the, that’s my big takeaway from this that for me resonates so much, there’s such a difference and a very different way of thinking about Eddie, any speech, any presentation, any power you’re on, what’s the story I’m telling.

[00:13:15] Aaron Jones: Okay. So exactly.

[00:13:17] Jason Whitehead: Yeah. Aaron, I’m wondering in your experience and with all the teams that you’ve worked with over the years, What is the best way to develop storytelling abilities and what should an individual do to improve their own storytelling abilities, but also as a CS leader, what should you do to improve it within your team or within others in your organization?

[00:13:33] Aaron Jones: There’s the old cliche imitation is the highest form of flattery or it’s the highest form of complimenting. Listen to people that you like have identified as being a good storyteller and literally study them. So if you notice it, executive a or individual contributor B is just really good at it.

Nobody study their habits. What there’s actually an art to telling a story and notice those nuances. And when they refer back to drive a point, and then the other part is practice. You’ve got to get the, you got to get the at-bats and give yourselves if you don’t have the opportunity, create the opportunity.

If you’re tapped to do a presentation, make the decision. It’s I’m going to do this presentation as a story and think of it as, instead of I’m going through from slide aids, it’s like B to C that I’m gonna create this in a way. And I’m going to weave a common theme. Where there is a, there’s a start, there’s a middle, there’s a climax.

And there’s the resolution. But think about it in the form of a story.

[00:14:44] Jason Noble: That’s right. I love it. It’s really I’m spiraling. Cause that’s just so it’s obvious, but it’s just, you’ve just got to think about it differently. The you in your experience, have you seen any kind of correlation between people who.

Present as a story and a really good storytellers and performance are the two related they’re very high performance. If you’re a good storyteller, you’re a high performer.

[00:15:10] Aaron Jones: Yeah, absolutely. I’ve seen it in both the sales side and the post-sale side. Definitely on the sales side, it’s all relationship driven.

Being a good storyteller, of course, having a great sense of humor and probably a high tolerance for alcohol help but But on both sides on the sales side and the post-sale side, like some of the highest retaining CSMs are the ones that are, they really are engaged with the customer and they know the customer story and they know how to connect to the customer story. And as they’re taking data and information there, they’re connecting it directly to the story that the customer needs to tell to their bosses.

And they’re hiring.

[00:15:53] Jason Whitehead: Absolutely. So when you’re looking to build out your teams or promote people do you particularly look for some storytelling ability and assess that as part of your weighting factors? Or is it just that’s a bonus it’s but it’s not critical,

[00:16:05] Aaron Jones: It’s, that’s an interesting question because I’ve actually never thought about it that specifically until you ask literally right now.

So the answer is no, I have. However I have I got communication skills in general is a bucket, like how do you crap emails? How do you present to me when questions are asked of you, how succinctly and clear are your answers. So it’s a, like a bucket of skills that I think through.

And, but I think now going forward, Storytelling is going to be its own separate line item in terms of my criteria when considering promotions.

[00:16:45] Jason Whitehead: That’s great. I was speaking with a CS leader the other day and she was telling me some of her things when she’s interviewing folks and one of the ones she does is ask right off the bat.

If you’re coming up to interview with XYZ company today and we both get in the elevator at the same time and hit the button at the same. What do you do? Do you look down the floor? How do you engage me around that kind of thing? And just, I asked her, so what is it you’re listening for there?

And she’s I want to hear their ability to communicate and to engage, even with someone that they don’t know where they’re going to go. And I think it’s very much the same thing. Do you have a story to tell? Can you bring me in

[00:17:16] Jason Noble: it’s that engagement? Isn’t it really is because it is, if it’s someone you don’t know.

And it can be a lot of people find that silences as being awkward, but you can use the silence, but it is about that engagement. How do I bring someone into that story? How do you, Aaron, how do you go about helping people develop these skills? These are not easy things to do and to do it at the level that we’re talking about it.

It’s easy to talk about it, but how do you, how’d you go about building it into an individual? How does a CS leader going about doing themselves, but then also. As a customer success leader, how do you get your team built up on it as well? How do you help?

[00:17:52] Aaron Jones: Yeah. It’s a subjective skill, right?

Like it’s not like a something that’s easily quantifiable. Feedback is important, like clear, direct in the moment, feedback is off as much as possible and then creating the opportunity. And then giving feedback on how they are progressing in development, in developing as storytellers.

I just had my QBR is this week and I had to, like everyone had to tell their story and that’s the way I framed my QVR. I was like, it’s a business review but honestly each of you, each of my functional leads, your job is just to tell me the story of last quarter and tell me the story of this quarter.

That’s coming and make it. So these are opportunities in ways in, at the end of each presentation, like I’ll give feedback, and then I’ll give deeper feedback in one-on-ones as well. But it’s really to just like those little things, that’s usually just small tweaks that will take something from being really good to being.

[00:18:54] Jason Whitehead: I, as I’m listening, I was thinking back I was on a long-term project, several years of working with an organization, helping them to set up and administer their user adoption, your change program. And the CEO was running this. It’s a marathon hideous meetings all the way through it. And a couple of years into it, it got to the point where people are really feeling down and depressed that slog of the cycle and people are worried and there’s trying to do some finger pointing and other things.

And the CEO was very gifted storyteller and he’s just folks, wait a minute, let’s just take a step back. And instead of just making a decision, addressing the short-term thing, he went back to the story of. Three years ago, hadn’t they first started this initiative and what they were thinking and the problems they were facing and what they learned at each of the big milestones along the way and what they did and how all those decisions that got them to where they are made sense at the time they built on themselves.

And that this was just another issue that needed to be overcome and that their go hand, he also reminded them where we’re going and how we’re going to get there. And it was amazingly powerful, diffusing, the tension, reenergizing the group, and getting folks moved on, come forward. And it really stuck out for me.

A technique that was very good as a storyteller. So I share that by way of getting ready to ask. Do you know that of all the great storytellers you’ve encountered or even your own done, is there a favorite skill or technique that you’ve observed? He said, this is really powerful that I want to try and take on myself that I didn’t think to do.

[00:20:13] Aaron Jones: That’s a great question. Humor is always. In my experience, always a plus. So as, as much as you can inject humor as a tool to make something more relatable and to engage the audience. So that they’re there just a little bit more relaxed and receptive. I think that I think it’s an underrated skill as a storyteller in business.

I think that, in social settings, of course, like being funny is great. But leveraging humor and business is a way to to it’s a sort of a combination of disarming the audience, but then also pulling them in and making yourself more relatable. I think it’s powerful.

[00:20:59] Jason Whitehead: Yeah. I think that’s very true. Especially if you’ve got some more people at a love or lower level, you in the organizational structure and hierarchy who may be intimidated by the role in who you are, and especially people early in their career oh, he’s a nice guy. I want to go have a beer with him.

[00:21:14] Aaron Jones: That’s great. Exactly. It’s the more that we humanize ourselves, I think the more effective. Effective you are as a leader in Europe, more more, you’re a better received storyteller as you humanize yourself.

[00:21:28] Jason Whitehead: Yeah. Yeah. And authentic. And frankly, just more fun for us as the storyteller.

Excellent. I think we’re at the point now where we want to ask you our bowl challenge question here, and, we love the conversation where things go and could continue this on. But what we’d like to do is what bold actions should see us leaders take to improve storytelling and incorporate it into their team’s daily work practices.

So if there’s someone out there, a CS leader who’s really listing like, yeah, I want to do this in my group. And I needed to shake them up a little bit. What’s the biggest bold action or actions you’d like to see.

[00:22:00] Aaron Jones: Oh, I, that is a great challenge question where I’ll tell you what I think is really important is competitions.

I have worked well for me. It meant it in many instances, as long as it’s like friendly, competitive competitions amongst the team, because like everyone, like who doesn’t want to be on top of a lead report. Everyone enjoys that. And I would suggest if they haven’t already to make it a competition about who’s gonna, who’s gonna lead the way in being like the most effective story.

And to allow, those that sort of step up to present at, if it’s a weekly leadership meeting or whatever you have on your calendar, that’s recurring to rotate everyone through that. As best you can, as much as I can scale to put their best pitch forward. And then at the end of the month or the end of the quarter, reward them with whatever the get the gift would be.

[00:23:09] Jason Whitehead: Awesome. Great.

[00:23:09] Jason Noble: Cool. I love that. Absolutely. This hour, and this has been brilliant. Really? I’m smiling because this is so cool. I’ve got some big takeaways. I’ve made some notes for myself on this. I really, and I’m going to, I’m going to put some of these into practice. I’ll really like.

[00:23:22] Jason Whitehead: Fantastic.

So before we go, we might invite you to do a shameless plug for you, your organization and anything you want to share and let people know how they can get in

[00:23:30] Aaron Jones: touch with you. I’m happy to shamelessly plug HubSpot. HubSpot is literally. One of the best places that I’ve ever worked. The culture at HubSpot is unlike any other culture at this scale that I’ve ever been a part of, or even really witnessed tangentially.

It’s a great company. We were just voted number two best place to work by glass door for this year. So shout out to everyone at HubSpot for making it such an incredible place. We’ve been in the. I want to say we’ve been in the top three for probably the last three or four years running. And it’s, it just truly is a great place to work if you’re at all interested in joining HubSpot our career page is full of opportunities.

We’re growing at an incredible rate. Just shout out the HubSpot for being an incredible place. I just had my first anniversary in December and I am looking forward to many more years as a Hubspotter. Awesome.

[00:24:30] Jason Whitehead: Fantastic, Aaron, thank you so much. We really appreciate it. Take care now. Bye.

[00:24:35] Aaron Jones: Bye.



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